Photography Season 19-20 at the National Museum | Review

Snowdonia, Wales, 1989 © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos / Rocket Gallery

By Sarah Anne Griffiths

The National Museum’s latest photography exhibition includes work curated by four of the most prestigious photographers within the photography world. Upon attending the press preview of the exhibition it became apparent that Cardiff, and Wales as a whole, is truly honoured to have such important photographic work on display in our capital city.

One of the four photographers is August Sander. The National Museum has exhibited over eighty of Sander’s photographs taken from the renowned project ‘People of the Twentieth Century’. This project focused on creating a ‘true portrait of the German nation’ by capturing people of all ages and backgrounds. No person, and all that they represent, was off-limits for Sander – from bricklayers, secretaries and artists to policemen and politicians – Sander’s subjects remained anonymous but were rather titled by social class and profession and photographically categorised into seven distinct categories. Such an exhibition evokes a sense of humanity and empathy on the viewer’s part; I believe this is because, at our simplest state, we are products of our beliefs and as such we see ourselves in Sander’s work. Everyone that appreciates these photographs in person will, in some way, shape and form, fit into one of the seven categories.

Continuing through this exhibition one will come across Bernd and Hilla Becher’s 225 photographs documenting industrial structures across Europe and the USA as well as the South Wales valleys. Their subject matter includes winding towers, blast furnaces and cooling towers amongst many other colossal structures. In capturing these scenes the Becher’s hoped to create photographs that would stand as monuments to a lost world of labour that were once the cornerstone of the social being of industrial communities.

Arguably, the star of the exhibition is Martin Parr. His photographs, captured in Wales, document the life of everyday Welshmen and women. From working men’s clubs, national sports, food, festivals and the seaside all the way to Wales’ past of coal mining – Parr captures it all vividly and without pretence. Parr’s work explores themes of leisure, consumption and communication within Wales in a humorous and affectionate way, thus, painting a vibrant picture of Welsh life and culture over the years.

This exhibition will evoke feelings of sadness and uncertainty all the way to unexplainable joy. These photographs will spark something inside of you, regardless of whether or not you are a prolific photographer or artist, this body of work cannot be missed.